Robin Talley: LIES WE TELL OURSELVES

We have a lot of fantastic authors at OneFour KidLit and are excited to introduce them all to you. One author, four questions. Today we’re talking to Robin Talley, YA author of LIES WE TELL OURSELVES.

What’s your debut book about?

Here’s a summary:

It’s 1959, and 17-year-old Sarah Dunbar is the first black student to integrate the all-white Jefferson High School in Davisburg, Virginia. No one wants her there. Hundreds of white students line the school halls, screaming, spitting, and throwing rocks at Sarah and her friends.

When Sarah meets Linda Hairston, the two girls have every reason to hate each other. Linda’s not only white ― she’s the daughter of the town’s most ardent segregationist. But the world is changing fast. And whether they like it or not, Sarah and Linda are changing too. Both of them are beginning to feel something they’ve never felt before. And they’re both determined to ignore it.

Because it’s one thing to be frightened by the world around you ― and another thing altogether when you’re terrified of what you feel inside.

Did you do a lot of research for your book?

Quite a bit! I spent months researching the history of school desegregation and life in the 1950s before I wrote the first word of LIES WE TELL OURSELVES. This included a lot of listening to oral histories, reading newspaper archives, and pouring through vintage high school yearbooks.

For a taste of it, here are some of my favorite photos from 1950s yearbooks:

(If you love this sort of thing as much as I do, I posted some more vintage yearbook photos here.)

Where did you get the idea for this story?

I was first inspired to write LIES WE TELL OURSELVES during a road trip with my parents. We were talking about their school days back in the 1950s and 60s, and the conversation turned to their fears that the schools would be closed due to the state government’s efforts to resist school desegregation.

Both of my parents were students in all-white Virginia high schools during integration. They both saw first-hand the torment that the few black students in their schools were subjected to. These were stories I’d never been taught in history classes, even though I grew up in Virginia too.

I did some research and discovered just how well-organized opposition to the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board desegregation ruling had been throughout the South, especially in Virginia. In the city of Norfolk, 10,000 students missed out on half a year of their educations ― because the governor closed down the white schools rather than let 17 black students into their classrooms.

I wondered what it would’ve been like to be one of those 17 black students. And what would happen if you were dealing with that ― and if you were gay, too. In 1959, being gay wasn’t something you could tell anyone about. Not unless you wanted to risk everything.

By that point, I was sucked in. I had no choice but to write Sarah’s story.

Do you have any tips for beginning writers?

Figure out what works for you, and do that. There are a million writing guides out there ― books, articles, podcasts, videos, conferences, crit groups, you name it. None of it is useful unless it works for you. Try different tricks and techniques until you find what works, and then stick with that. Don’t second-guess your own instincts.

Robin Talley lives in Washington, D.C., with her ornery cat and her opposite-of-ornery fiancée. Robin’s debut novel, LIES WE TELL OURSELVES (Harlequin Teen, September 2014), follows a black girl in 1959 Virginia who’s the first to desegregate an all-white high school, and winds up falling in love with a white girl in the process. Robin tweets at @robin_talley.
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9 thoughts on “Robin Talley: LIES WE TELL OURSELVES

  1. Mine too! This winter, I visited a museum in southwestern VA, and all the curator could talk about was how it was one of the first districts to desegregate, but that they then neglected to hire back the black teachers, who then had to move away to find jobs (and therefore took their kids away with them). She was trying to gets more information, but the school board meeting notes are locked up, and whenever she asks for them, the reply is always, “We don’t air our dirty laundry in this town.” Now, the town is homogenous. It’s sickening.

  2. This is near the top of my TBR pile. I’m absolutely fascinated by the double, no, triple whammy of this story.Segregation, Interracial couple, and Homosexuality – You’re brave!

    Interesting enough, I was listening to MS public radio today on my drive north from visiting family and there was a program about white seg. academies in the South and how this reporter felt like schools in the deep south were moving back toward segregation – sad and fascinating radio show.

  3. Pingback: Interview at OneFourKidLit | Robin Talley

  4. Pingback: Tuesday BLEW away…into Les Miserables! | PAVEing a Blog

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